Amidst a Pandemic, Completing the Semester Online at MSU

Dr. Steven W. Shirley
President, Minot State University
Published March 28, 2020 in the Minot Daily News

I fully realize you might be tiring of reading news related to COVID-19, and thus looking for another subject to temporarily take your mind off current circumstances. However, as this serious public health crisis expands and the virus continues disrupting daily life for people across the globe, it is timely to share a few reflections and let you know how Minot State University is responding to this pandemic.

As with many other organizations, businesses, and state agencies, COVID-19 has upended normal routines at MSU, but it has not stopped us from continuing our mission of educating and serving students. We recently announced that MSU students will complete the semester online from a distance. Not only are we helping our thousands of students practice physical distancing by staying home, we are also helping ensure the health and safety of our 400+ employees, as well as the entire community, by not having students return to Minot. These are difficult decisions, but the wellbeing of students, faculty, staff, and the broader region supersedes the short-term pain we might bear in switching from a face-to-face to an online teaching environment.

The past few weeks have brought personal flashbacks to a situation 11 years ago. In the spring of 2009, I was nearing completion of my first year as Valley City State University’s new president. Valley City endured a citywide evacuation that spring due to the rising Sheyenne River, and so, with five weeks remaining in the semester, VCSU sent all students home to complete their academics online.

Fast forward to the present and there are many similarities, yet also many differences. The threat of a flood, as everyone in the Minot region knows, is a much different enemy than a spreading pandemic. Not necessarily better nor worse, just different. Additionally, compared to 11 years ago, technology and the capabilities of professors to utilize those technologies have changed and improved dramatically. MSU has a wonderful team of faculty and staff who are developing effective solutions to educate and serve our students during these final two months of the semester. Students across academic disciplines at MSU are now experiencing new ways of learning and interacting with their professors and classmates in this virtual educational environment. My heartiest compliments to our faculty and students alike for the creative and flexible ways in which they are using technology to break the borders of distance and overcoming the obstacles of not being together in the classroom.

The one constant between completing the semester via distance in both 2009 and 2020 is a deep sadness for our graduating seniors. The waning days of the spring semester is a time for year-end celebrations, banquets, and gatherings to recognize student achievement. Unfortunately, our students will not enjoy such opportunities to celebrate the successes of their classmates and each other. We have also made the difficult decision to cancel the Commencement ceremony at the MSU Dome in May, and while we are currently working on a plan to recognize those graduates in an alternative manner, ultimately they won’t have a proper chance to say good-bye to one another in the traditional sense. It is difficult sacrificing such opportunities for students, but most especially so for our graduating seniors during their last semester on campus. Those experiences were suddenly disrupted and cannot be replaced, and for that, our students have my sincerest apologies.

Please continue exercising caution, heeding guidance to minimize the spread of contagion, and staying safe for the sake of you and your loved ones.

As always.....Go Beavers!